Sonny Dykes/Sandy Barbour/David Shaw; Leigh Steinberg; Matt McCloin/Terrelle Pryor; Guardsmen
WELL, SO much for the “anything can happen in the Big Game” story line. The “anything” last Saturday was a record-setting Stanford win.
Only the extent of the defeat was a surprise to me. As I had written in this column and in the Examiner, the only real surprises in Big Game history have come when the favorite was overconfident, and there was no chance that would happen this time. Stanford players were angry because they had been beaten by the USC Trojans the Saturday before, so they weren’t going to let down.
This is the lowest point for Cal football since I’ve been following the program since I came to Cal in the fall of 1956. Off the field, graduation rates are awful – though the report on the 2007 class shows a significant rebound. This is the first time a Cal team has lost 11 games on the field; Tom Holmoe’s last team went 4-7 but playing two players who should have been ineligible caused the NCAA to strip away those wins, making Cal officially 0-11 that year.
Oh, but Jared Goff set a Cal season record with 3508 yards. Cal yielded 551 points. I’ll let you decide which of those numbers is more significant.
Watching this team all year, there were consistent breakdowns, and that continued in this game. It seems that almost no defensive player knows how to tackle.
Injuries have been a big story – and excuse – all year, which got me thinking about what seems a trend: Bad teams have many more injuries than good ones. That was true of the teams in the Big Game; Stanford has had few serious injuries. I think a big part of the problem is coaching. If players are not taught how to be in the right position to make plays, it’s much more likely they’ll get injured.
There’s a lot to like about Sonny Dykes. He’s very personable – he stuck around after the Guardsmen’s luncheon last week to talk to Cal alums – and he’s more concerned about the academics of players than most coaches, which was a big factor in his hiring, though he has the wrong idea when he says Cal should model its academic approach with athletes on Stanford’s program. As I’ve explained before, Cal and Stanford are much different schools. Stanford runs an admirable program but there’s no way Cal could emulate it.
Overall, I don’t think Dykes is the right coach for the Bears. I don’t like his offensive system, which seems to work only on a lower level of play or if a team has overwhelming talent – neither of which applies to the Bears. And his assistants certainly don’t seem up to the task, either.
I’m sure Dykes will be around for at least another year, but I don’t think the Bears are ever going to be winners with him at the helm. And before he goes, I hope to see Cal get a replacement for athletic director Sandy Barbour.
Stanford, by contrast, has it all going now. With the Oregon Ducks being surprisingly and convincingly beaten by the host Arizona Wildcats, the Cardinal will be in the Pac-12 title game, with the winner going to the Rose Bowl.
There’s a lesson for Cal in the Stanford success. Academics have never been a problem at Stanford because athletes have to meet the same admission standards as other students – and they graduate. But, when they had the wrong coaches – Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris – they had dismal seasons.
It won’t be so easy for Cal to solve its problems, but getting the right coach in place is essential.
IT JUST gets uglier in college football, as events in Tallahassee, Florida have shown.
Last December, a Florida State coed accused star quarterback Jameis Winston of rape. Only recently has that news even come out, on an ESPN report, and local and state authorities are moving very, very slowly. For months after the alleged assault, they held on to the evidence, claiming the victim didn’t want to pursue it, which is not true. It’s probably just a coincidence that the state attorney general, Willie Meggs is a Florida State alum and the Seminoles big game against Florida, which could have national title implications, is coming up Saturday. Suuuuure. The mishandling of this case has gotten so much attention that there’s finally pressure on the law enforcement officials to do their job.
The Florida State athletic administration should take note of what happened to Penn State when they tried to cover up the Jerry Sandusky scandal. A similar NCAA punishment could eventually follow in this situation.
IN ANOTHER interesting development, participation in high school football and junior programs has declined remarkably in recent years. In part, that’s because high schools are now charging parents whose sons play to offset possible claims later.
The signs are there: Football below the collegiate level is on the way out. Maybe it will still continue in Texas – on many levels, I don’t understand the thinking of Texans – but its demise elsewhere is inevitable.
How long can colleges sustain programs if there’s no feeding system from high school? I think that question answers itself.
Before that happens, the NFL may have to establish its own farm system, instead of relying on colleges to keep providing them with an easy source of talent.
Football has been a game I’ve enjoyed watching and writing about but long ago, when I stood on the sidelines watching Raiders practices in the late ‘60s, I realized the brutality of the game. It’s only gotten worse since then, with players bulking up on steroids.
MEANWHILE, THE Raiders lost another winnable game against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Their 4-7 record could easily have been reversed but it takes time for a team which has been losing, sometimes badly, to realize how to win these games. If the Raiders realize this before the end of this season, it will bode well for next season.
One season-long problem has been the erratic kicking of Sebastian Janikowski, who had been the most consistently successful long distance kicker in NFL history. Janikowski still has that strong leg – he kicked one 52 yards on Sunday – but the consistency hasn’t been there this year. He missed two kicks in this game, one a 32-yarder, which had been almost a gimme in previous years. Overall, he is 15-for-22 this year; last year, he was 31-for-34.
It isn’t Janikowski’s problem. In previous years, punter Shane Lechler was his holder. Lechler left as a free agent when Texas offered him a three-year contract for $5.5 million, including a $1 million bonus. The Raiders, who have had to get rid of many bad contracts brought in by Al Davis before his death, couldn’t afford to keep Lechler.
So, Janikowski’s holder has been rookie punter Marquette King, who has been excellent at his primary job. But his holds on kicks have apparently not been as consistent as Lechler’s. That’s something that will probably be worked out this season but it’s hurting the Raiders now.
Janikowski’s two missed field goals – he made five – wouldn’t have been so significant if the Raiders offense hadn’t consistently stalled in the red zone, not getting a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Matt McGloin had a decent statistical line but he often got passes batted down by linemen who put up their hands. I had stayed home because I have a tire which needs to be replaced so I watched the game on TV. Rich Gannon, doing the color on the game, noted several times that McGloin needs to learn how to move to change his release point. Other teams, after watching the video of this game, will be trying to do the same against McGloin, who is listed at 6-1 but is thought to be shorter.
Nonetheless, coach Dennis Allen said after the game that McGloin had earned a chance to start again in the Thanksgiving Day game against the Cowboys on the road. Of course, we don’t know the progress of Terrelle Pryor with his knee injury. Pryor tried to play on it, which was a mistake, so Allen won’t let him take the field again until he’s healthy.
As for McGloin, I’m not sure whether he’s an NFL quarterback. There are certainly things to like about him. He’s tough, standing in the pocket even knowing he’ll get hit as soon as he releases the ball. He is an accurate passer, which is the one absolute requirement for an NFL quarterback (which is why nobody wants Tim Tebow).
But McGoin’s stature is a problem, especially if he doesn’t do a better job of adjusting. He’s not any kind of running threat and can’t even elude potential tacklers as Ryan Fitzpatrick did so often for the Titans.
Long term, I still think Pryor will be a better bet as the starter, with McGoin available as a backup who can step in to start if Pryor is injured or having a bad day.
AROUND THE NFLE: If you had any doubt about how the salary cap has produced parity, a.k.a. mediocrity, all you have to know is that the Raiders and Titans, both 4-6, were battling for the sixth AFC playoff spot.
Overall, the two conferences are equal but the NFC seems to have more strength at the top with Seattle and New Orleans. After a slow start, Carolina has come on very strong and the Arizona Cardinals, who face a tough schedule the rest of the way, are playing very well.
The 49ers? I’ll save my thoughts on them for my Friday column in the Examiner.
LEIGH STEINBERG is officially back in business, being certified by the NFL Players Association, and I wish him well. He’s been through a lot in recent years, fighting alcoholism, going through a divorce, losing clients, but beneath all the publicity, good and bad, Leigh is a good soul with a big heart.
Our first meeting came right after he burst onto the scene with a huge splash, getting what was then the most lucrative contract in the NFL for Cal quarterback Steve Bartkowski.
He called me and arranged a lunch meeting at Kip’s to discuss his program of having his clients give part of their contracts to charitable causes, a practice which he maintained.
At that time, he worked out of his home in the Berkeley hills, a ramshackle place which had an extensive sun deck in the front. We often sat out there discussing is plans and the state of sports in general.
Leigh was a genuine friend. He employed my son in the summer to do grunt work, which convinced Scott he wanted no part of that business. Instead, he went into the law and is now a partner in Louise Renne’s public law firm.
When Leigh got engaged to be married, he and Lucy came to our house for dinner, which I cooked.
Eventually, Leigh and Lucy moved to Newport Beach, near her friends, and my contacts with Leigh were less frequent. I knew of his addictive personality but still was shocked at his fall.
But, he’s come back from all that. Knowing his will and persuasive abilities, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him signing top players, especially quarterbacks, again.
GUARDSMEN LUNCHEON: As I told you, the Guardsmen Big Game luncheon has been the one pre-game function I always attend, but it was a disappointment this year.
Part of it was my fault. I got a late start out the door and, as soon as I stepped out, a monsoon hit my section of Oakland. I had almost forgotten how to drive in the rain but I drove about 45-50 mph through the driving rain as SUVs going 70 passed me. Traffic was backed up going to the bridge and even in the FasTrack lane I use. It took me about hour and a quarter to make the trip to the Fairmont, instead of the usual half hour it normally takes.
So, I missed the opening ceremonies, usually done by Bob Sarlatte. But the Guardsmen had not been willing to pay Sarlatte’s fee this year. Their fallback position had been Damon Bruce, who heads up one of the organization’s committees, but when Bruce had that embarrassing rant on KNBR, Guardsmen officials started looking for somebody else and got Larry Biel, who apparently did a good job because they’ve hired him for 2014.
More disturbing was the fact that Stanford coach David Shaw again ducked out, sending a taped video of about three sentences, and apparently warned Stanford alumni. Few of them showed up, so the event had to be moved from the Grand Ballroom to the Venetian Room, a much smaller room. Shaw needs to be reminded that this is a fundraiser for an organization which has many programs to add youths.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING! It will be a family affair for us, with our son and daughter-in-law doing most of the cooking and my brother, Bob, and his live-in woman friend, Deb, up from Santa Barbara. I’m just staying out of the way of the cooks. Because I don’t like turkey, we’ll have sirloin of beef, accompanied by Robert Mondavi reserve cabernet, and we’ll maintain our Thanksgiving tradition of a choice of pies and other goodies. Nobody will starve!
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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